Rachel couldn’t bring her grandfather to Christ. But she could grow closer to Christ while trying.
I tapped my foot impatiently as the guy behind the counter at the mega superstore photo lab searched through drawers to find my pictures. It had been a long day and although I had the time to put up with the employee’s attitude and incompetence; I didn’t much feel like it. So I mumbled some angry words under my breath about how it wasn’t my fault this fellow’s job was going nowhere, I just wanted the pictures of who-knows-what that the lab had misplaced then found then misplaced again. After about five minutes of mindless staring at the wall of film next to me, my pictures were found. I managed a polite thank-you and proceeded to the checkout.
As I walked toward the front of the store, I opened the badly worn envelope with the mystery photos. I paused to look at the first one; the image caused me to stop and lean against the rugs in the bathroom accessory aisle. It was my grandfather. I studied the picture for a moment and all the memories of his death came flooding back. It had been seven months since he died and I just started to get good at not thinking about it.
It was 6:00 on a Monday morning in March; I woke to my mom knocking on my bedroom door. She needed to borrow my car to go to her parents’ house across town. My grandfather was having trouble breathing and she needed to get there right away. The phone rang only minutes after she left. My aunt’s voice was barely audible as she said that my grandfather had passed on. Passed on. To most of my culturally Catholic family that meant he was in purgatory or in heaven, waiting for us to follow. To me, his passing meant an entrance into total separation from God. Hell was never more real than in that moment.
My grandfather was a devout disbeliever. He never led me to think he was an atheist, but his actions denied any real belief in God. We often argued about my faith. “One of these days, Rachel, you will find out the truth, and you will know that I was right.” He said this once after I refused to listen to him talk about how Jesus was merely a teacher and not the divine Son of God. It was conversations like this that made loving him almost impossible. Still, I did not stop visiting when I came home from college, nor did I cease to pray that his eyes be opened. I tried not to argue and instead worked on being a better example of Christ. I thought that one day I would get through to him, but I never did.
He would say that He couldn’t give his life to a God who let bad things happen. My grandfather wanted a god who would make him happy. He wanted a god who would help him win the lottery or make him younger. The last thing he wanted was a deity who was only going to tell him that he was not a good enough person. He never killed anyone or broke any other major laws, but my grandfather lived a life of denial about his need for Jesus.
After he died, I thought of all the things I could have done or said to make him believe. I questioned God for allowing him to die without ever coming to know Christ. The Sunday school answers swarmed in my head. I knew that it was his choice and that grace would not be grace if it were forced on us. Love is a gift, etc, etc. These answers gave no comfort. I mulled over these things for weeks. Finally one day I realized that I wasn’t angry because I missed my grandfather or because I loved him so much. I was angry because I had failed at bringing in one of the lost. It wasn’t grief that kept me awake at night, but pride.
I considered myself an inferior Christian. For months, this belief followed me around, tormenting my thoughts. I thought it had gone away over time, but then the same drowning feelings rushed back as I stared at my grandfather’s picture. Looking at my grandfather’s face, I was confronted with my suppressed doubts and anger. I finally evaluated my feelings and realized that while I may feel like a defective evangelist, my feelings are not truth. God’s truth is that He offers the gift of life to all men, but not all men decide to take it. I believe in God’s mercy and grace more than I believe in my own plans. God wanted my grandfather in heaven, and to such an extent that He sent Jesus to die for him. My grandfather was offered the loving hand of God and chose to push it away.
As I stood in the mega store aisle, I asked God to forgive my impatience with the guy at the photo lab. He was a part of a bigger “picture” I could not yet see. The pictures had been missing since a week before my grandfather died, and now I was ready to face the truth. I believe that now, after six months, God has freed me from my own shadow of death. While the pain of knowing where my grandfather is will never leave me, I know all the more that God’s love is real.
I also take hold of the promise in James 1 that the testing of my faith develops perseverance so that I may be mature and complete. Today, I am a little closer.
Copyright 2002 Rachel Trinidad. All rights reserved.